KTM Super Duke R 1290– Riding the Beast 3.0 on the roadArmani
KTM Super Duke R 1290– Riding the Beast 3.0 on the road
The Super Duke R 1290 – KTM has called it The Beast since day one, with this one being dubbed the Beast 3.0. It isn’t a stripped-down sports bike. Since its inception it has been a naked bike, a bike with minimal bodywork and maximum noise. It is, frankly, a bit nuts. KTM’s Super Dukes have always been so, since the first 950, through the 990 and then on to the latest 1290 iterations. Super Dukes have always been pretty full-on and uncompromising bikes – all horsepower and handlebars, with little to no nod towards everyday usability. Until now. KTM has given the latest SD 1290 more power than ever, more performance than ever, but coupled it with more sophistication, better suspension, more rider aids and you can even get niceties like cruise control to make the bike work across a wider range of riding conditions. Most of this fell on deaf ears at the bike’s launch in the blissful pre-COVID times of early 2020 – we were all far too distracted by Jeremy McWilliams wheelying the length of the start/finish straight before sliding sideways into every turn. That and the following day of one-wheeled, madness completely banished any fear that the 1290 SD had finally grown up and got a sensible haircut. What we didn’t get a chance to figure out at that initial launch, was if the new Super Duke had a calmer side, a road-biased side, a side that could be used when it’s 5 degrees and raining on a British B-road rather than basking in the sunshine of a sunny European track day.
So, here we are. As far removed from Portimão and a sunny trackday as you’re likely to go with a sports bike. Bumps, potholes, sheep poo and gravel, without a painted apex kerb or warm pit garage in sight. It’s all very well being able to pull a 5th gear wheelie the length of a straight, but when you’ve finished daydreaming, this is really where this bike needs to perform – on normal roads.
First up – the engine – have you ever tried to use 180 bhp on a small, bumpy lane? How about with the rider aids turned off? The Super Duke has its work cut out hanging on to that engine, and when you start trying to ride it fast on a rough road, that’s the overbearing impression. It feels like you, the frame and everything else are all hanging on to that 1300cc V-twin for dear life. While 180hp tries to smash itself into the horizon, the chassis is desperately trying to steer it away from the hedges and the electronics are doing their best to stop it flipping upside down. And you’re perched on top giggling in terror and delight. The chassis and electronics are both very good at their jobs, but it’s still a bike and a riding experience dominated by the engine.
The practical bits of the bike do take the edge off on a long ride, the cruise control is very useful but mainly on the motorway where the rest of the bike doesn’t want to be. The wind protection from the aero-designed headlight is good, for an aero-designed headlight, but nothing like you’d get from a proper screen. If you want a touring bike, take a look at the Super Duke GT. Other grumpy old man complaints include a pretty crap turning circle, slightly vibey handlebars on a long run and an LED headlight that is brilliant in a straight line, but lacks spread for riding corners fast in the dark. It might have some practical touches, but this is not a Honda Goldwing.
What this bike does love is a good, fast road blast. It is, in a word, intense. The Super Duke 1290 is a bike that engages you fully, demands concentration and then rewards with one of the most intense road riding experiences a modern bike can offer. It’s fast all the time. Any gear, any revs, any speed. It wants to do one of two things; wheelie or get to the next corner as quickly as possible. You just have to decide whether to rein it in, or roll with it and go along for the rollercoaster ride. The supermoto mode ABS means you can add skids and stoppies into the mix, just in case you were getting bored of wheelies. Ridden with a more responsible head, the SD is a fantastic way to make ridiculous progress – the chassis is fast steering in the turns, but stable enough to cope with using as much power as you dare along the bumpy straights. If you’re looking to be able to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of a bike on the road, this isn’t the right bike for you, or if it is, you’d be better off in one of those government-funded hotels with the soft-touch wallpaper. Ride the SD 1290 too hard and everything becomes a blur – side stand up, throttle open, flashy lights, best suit, public transport and six months working in a charity shop.
For all its intensity on a fast ride, when you’re just trying to get home after a long day, the 1290 is not as nuts as you might think. The widespread of power means you can stick it in a high gear, dial the electronic throttle response back from ‘angry tiger’ to ‘agitated kitten’ and cruise home relatively sensibly. Having loads of go still available makes blasting past cars in the back roads a doddle too. It wouldn’t be your first choice for a long winter commute, but if you had to, there are far less comfortable bikes to be on. An early 990 SuperDuke R for instance.
The Super Duke R 1290 is unquestionably one of the most bonkers sports motorcycles money can buy. It has enough track performance to annoy S 1000 RRs and V4 Panigales, with enough naked bike bad behaviour for you to make up for any shortfall in lap times with drifts into and wheelies out of every turn. Yet, it still makes a pretty damn good road bike, provided you have the self-control. It delivers an abundance of power whenever you need it, it stays composed and stable on all but the bumpiest of back roads and it’s comfy enough for a couple of hours in the saddle. Compared to a straight-up touring bike, it’s hopeless, but not as hopeless as they are at getting around a race circuit without grounding out their panniers. It isn’t supposed to be a practical bike, it’s supposed to make you smile and it does that at every opportunity. The Super Duke R is a mad, excitable 1300cc engine with just enough high-end components bolted on to keep it attached to the Earth’s surface. It won’t win any WSB races. You wouldn’t choose one to ride through Africa. But it is a ridiculously fun bike to ride anywhere you can find tarmac.
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